Et al.

The et al. citation style favors scholars whose last name comes early in the dictionary. For example, other things equal, a last name like Aaron would circulate a lot more than Zuck. This problem is compounded by the existence of highly-cited papers which deviate from alphabetical ordering of authors. They carry the message: order matters, and some of you can’t use this trick, vae victis!

My suggestion is to avoid et al. and instead spell out every name (as in Aaron and Zuck) or every initial (as in AZ). It isn’t perfect, but improvements like randomly permuting the order still aren’t easy to implement. The suggestion actually cannot be implemented in journals like computational complexity which punish the authors into using an idiosyncratic style which has et al. But it doesn’t matter too much; nobody reads papers in those formats anyway, as we discussed several times.

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4 thoughts on “Et al.

  1. You might enjoy reading this paper: M. Tompa .Figures of merit. ACM SIGACT News , Volume 20 Issue 1, Winter 1989 Pages 62-71.
    Full disclosure: my last name starts with a “V”, and I approve your message…

    1. Thanks for the reference. Out of curiosity I took a look (which meant using my institution’s subscriptions, as the paper does not seem to be freely available online). (I also discovered the sequel.) It seems an elaborate joke without concrete suggestions.

  2. Thanks. Here’s a relevant paragraph from their paper:
    “In this work, we take a look at the process of citation from a different perspective. We focus on the process of an author making a
    citation, and ask what we can learn about this act. To gain a vantage point on this process, we take advantage of the fact that many
    researchers make use of computerized document preparation systems. In particular, systems such as Bibtex and Endnote facilitate
    the insertion of citations into documents. To refer to a particular
    work, the researcher must create a ‘key’ for it. We identify these
    citation keys as objects of interest. We argue that the researchers’
    choice of citation key gives us an insight into how they think about
    the work that they are citing. Moreover, we claim that key affects
    how they remember the work: if the key includes one name out of
    several authors, we believe that this is the name that the researcher
    most associates with the work.”
    They then find high correlation between the key and the first author.

    DBLP also gives keys such as DBLP:conf/stoc/PitassiRST16, but apparently that’s not a significant fraction of their keys.

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